MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEKEND*** Elena (2011

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “A movie shouldn’t be able to juggle so many tones, but Elena makes it look easy.”

The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again.   But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.

Elena 1
“Shit’s gotta be tasty, because millions of flies can’t be wrong.”

I grew up in the 80s when Russia was the head of the Soviet Union, the centre of communism.  It was also depicted as poverty stricken, backwards and primitive.  The supposedly never ending winters didn’t make things look any better or less oppressive either.  It’s almost 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia came out from behind the iron curtain.  But in my head, I still picture it as the poverty stricken, backwards, primitive, snow covered ghetto I was convinced it was in the 80s.  So while a compelling story and great acting was one upside of Elena, the real treat was seeing modern day Russia and getting a new perspective on what life is there in the 21st century.


10 years ago, working class nurse Elena (Nadezhda Markina) helped rich man Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov) recover from some sort of illness.  The two then married and have enjoyed an amicable, almost platonic relationship ever since.  Now, Elena’s adult son from a previous marriage (Aleksey Rozin as Sergey) is hoping to borrow a significant amount of money from Vladimir so he can send his own son to university to avoid being drafted into the army.Vladimir makes it clear that just because he cares for Elena, it doesn’t make her previous family his responsibility.  When Vladimir suffers a heart attack, the issues with his own adult daughter (Evgemiya Konushkina as Tatyana) are brought to light.  His declining health also makes Elena think about her future and the life she has become accustomed to thanks to Vladimir’s wealth.  More importantly, it makes Elena think about how to maintain that lifestyle if something should happen to her heart attack prone husband.

Elena offers hints of what life in Communist Russia was all about.  Elena and Vladimir are both old enough to have been adults in those days, and it’s obvious that Elena comes from a working class background, while Vladimir has had a lifetime of power and authority.   Which is, funnily enough, the kind of class separation that communism was supposed to eliminate.  But this movie shows how normal Russia is today, by my western standards.  This exact script could be set in any modern city and you’d be able to find locations and people that look exactly like this.
Elena 2
But there’s more to like about Elena than this lesson on the state of modern day Russia.  There’s a really entertaining story, performed by a really great cast.  It lurches from kitchen sink drama mundanity, to soap opera sensationalism, to almost thriller territory, and it does it all with ease.  A movie shouldn’t be able to juggle so many usually conflicting tones, but Elena makes it look easy.

Elena
Directed By – Andrey Zvyagintsev
Written By – Andrey Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Elena?
Roger Ebert
The Guardian
Windows on the World

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